A PERSONAL STORY OF AWAKENING
A PERSONAL STORY
The patriarchal ego of both men and women, to earn its instinct-disciplining, striving, progressive, and heroic stance, has fled from the full-scale awe of the goddess...but it is towards her...and especially towards her culturally repressed aspects, those chthonic and chaotic, ineluctable depths, that the new individuating, yin-yang balanced ego must return to find its matrix and the embodied and flexible strength to be active and vulnerable, to stand its own ground and still be sympathetically related to others.
Descent to the Goddess: A way of Initiation for Women by Sylvia Brinton Perera
Chapter 6 - Demeter and Persephone
November 13, 1992. I am on my way to Sicily. I am using oxygen on the plane because of chemical sensitivities and my weak condition. My friends were astonished when I told them that I was going on this trip, but Peter understood. He said, "You always said that the inner journey could be dangerous and that it would take all the strength you have. I understand that this is something you have to do."
When I arrive in Palermo, I have this dream: "A man finds a part of a button that shows a woman - a mother - who died out at sea. People throw buckets out into the water, with lines on them, to try to retrieve her." Ever since Mom died, I have been having dreams of her appearing over and over again.
A few days later, I travel by hydrofoil to the Island of Levanzo. It is located just off the coast from the town of Trapani. I am standing on the dock as Marion and Daniel come to meet me. I was given their names by a friend in Palermo who said they would be happy to show me around the Island. As I greet them, I see them looking past me; I turn around to see a coffin being carried off the ferry and down the wharf on the shoulders of four old men. Marion says, "We are just going to a funeral for a lady who has lived on the Island all her life. Would you like to come with us or join us later?" I tell them I would like to come; I am curious about what kind of a ritual they will have to bury the dead. As we walk behind the mourners on the winding path up to the cemetery, Marion tells me about the woman who just died. "She was a character," she said, "She lived on the Island all her life. People were a little intimidated by her, for she was very opinionated and controlling. She suffered from Alzheimerís Disease, and when she died she weighed fifty pounds and had long since ceased to know her family and friends."
It seems ironic to me that I am attending a funeral for a woman who so resembles my mother when I didnít attend a funeral for my own mother. I tried to convince my brothers to have a ritual of some sort to honour my motherís life and death. I even went to the church which we all attended as children to discuss what sort of service we could have. I told the minister that during the service I wanted to dance as a gift to my mother. He looked very uncomfortable and said that he would have to check with my brothers. Later that evening, I wrote him a letter telling him that if I wanted to dance for my mother I didnít have to get the permission of anyone. My brothers were adamant about not having any sort of ceremony, so I made a slide-show out of photographs of her life and invited everyone in the family to our home to honour her.
After the funeral on Levanzo, I have this dream. "While driving my car, I cause another car to almost go over the edge of the road. I hold it up with my bare hands. Then I am with some friends and my motherís body is there. It looks like the fish I ate the night before - flat and crispy - just a shell. Only half of it is there. I donít know how to get rid of it. I think of taking it out to sea or burning it. I imagine myself, by the water, burning what is left of her so she wonít keep reappearing."
I arrive in Marinella, a little seaside village beside the ruins of Selinunte. I wander, for what seems like hours, through one hotel after another. I am desperately tired, and I am having trouble finding somewhere to stay that feels comfortable. Finally, I settle on a small pensione and then gather my camera and backpack and head for the Sanctuary of Demeter Malaphorus. I am very excited to be finally visiting the place where the Goddess Demeter was worshipped. I find the ruins beside the sea, just down the hill from the Temple of Hera. This place is so quiet; there is no one around. As I sit among the stones and shards of pottery that are lying all over the ground, I begin to sob. I have come a long way to be in this place; I ask for guidance and help from the Goddess. I want to find some peace about my daughter and mother - I don't yet know that I also need to make peace with the daughter and mother inside me. All I know is that I don't want to hold on to anger, guilt, and hurt any longer.
I stay for a few hours and then return to my hotel room. I know that I will have a few days in this place, so I am in no hurry to see all of the temples today. I try to rest but, all of a sudden, I feel very frightened. I move my bed around and then place all of my bedding on the floor. I try to sleep. I canít understand why I feel so uneasy but the feeling grows until finally I pack up my belongings, pay for the hotel, and leave. It is dark out when I get into my rented car and head for the highway. I drive for hours, not knowing where I am going or why I had to leave Marinella. I feel as if the gods are angry. I donít feel that there is an attitude of reverence and awe for the power of the ruins - near the temples are tacky tourist hotels, snack bar stands, and cheap souvenir shops. I later read in a guide book that the site was damaged by recent construction, after protests against the construction by the local residents.
I drive through the dark until I reach the outskirts of a town. I donít know where I am, so I stop to ask a young man at a gas station. He tells me this is Sciacca and then seeing that I am upset and confused he tells me to follow him. He drives ahead of me through the winding, narrow streets and leads me to a beautiful hotel by the ocean. I find out later that it is a world famous health spa. I wave a thank you as he leaves. I feel as if I have been rescued, although I donít know from what. Later I will discover that this is the town where Rita Atria arrived by bus, from her little town of Partanna, to begin her testimony. A man came to her room in the middle of the night to warn her that there would be a bomb on her school bus the following day, so she got on a bus heading for Sciacca, leaving all she knew behind. With that act she must have known that she would never be able to return to her old life. It must have been a long journey for her to come to this place of "telling the truth." Earlier, she had written in her diary, "For years I tried to find out what they always hid from me and what I am discovering hurts so badly Ė I can no longer tell right from wrong."
Later, I read these words by Carl Jung:
Touching evil brings with it the
grave peril of succumbing to it. We must, therefore, no longer succumb to anything at
all, not even to good. Memories, Dreams, Reflections
The last day in Sciacca, I have this dream. "Larry is not dead. He is actually living somewhere near this town. I am so surprised and angry. I hear something about the Mafia."
On my way north, I stop in Agrigento to visit the cave and ruins of a temple dedicated to Demeter. The caretaker of these out-of-the-way ruins is a tiny old wizened-looking man. He takes my hand and insists on holding on to me as we wind down a steep path into the valley to the Sanctuary. There are tunnels which travel through the mountain to an opening on the other side. Within a few feet of the entrance to the cave, I am in complete darkness. I wonder how the initiates into the mysteries could have found their way through the mountain and out into the light. Before they entered the tunnel, a lamb would be sacrificed on rounds of granite just at the entrance to the tunnel. Above the sanctuary, on the ground where a temple to Demeter once stood, a Norman church is built and high on the hill above the church is a psychiatric hospital. When I ask the caretaker about the building above, he shakes his head and makes it clear that this is not a good place to go near; he appears afraid. I am curious about these layers of history and how it came to be that this particular place was picked to be a home for those who are in some way 'lost.'
After leaving Agrigento, I travel to the town of Pietraparzia. As I drive through the town, I begin to feel as if I am caught in it. My car circles the same streets over and over until, finally, I am spit out onto the highway. I am trying to find the Bed and Breakfast of Nina and Tattore, which is just outside the town. I have been given their names by Gian Carlo, my friend in Palermo. When I arrive, Nina is very upset. She tells me something has happened to a family member and that she has to leave, but will be back later. I stay for a little while but I do not feel comfortable, so I pack up my belongings and leave.
I travel to Enna and then on to Lake Pergusa. I am, now, half-way through my month-long holiday. This is the place where Persephone was pulled into the underworld by Hades. The residents have built a race car track around the edges of the lake. The weather is cold and rainy and the hotel I am staying in is full of mold; I am extremely allergic to mold, so I sleep with a mask on my face. I know my energy is getting very low and my eating habits have been very erratic. I am a little concerned that I may be heading for a relapse. I am thinking of flying home early, but after speaking to Gian Carlo on the phone he convinces me to visit his friends, Yvonne and Santi. Santi is Nina's brother. He says that Yvonne is from England and he is sure I will like her. I am relieved to think that I will be staying with someone who speaks English and since I really donít want to go home early I set off in the fog for Piazza Armerina, inadvertently leaving my passport behind in the hotel.